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The first thing to consider when attempting to remove or change your hair colour is what colour do you want to achieve? Do you need it to be a very pale and even base for dyeing your hair a pastel colour or you just need to get rid of some unwanted red tones before dyeing your hair blue. Maybe you want to get some colour out of your hair before dyeing it a more natural shade. Whatever the reason, it’s important to choose a technique (or techniques) that will work for you.
Below is a list of methods, in no particular order, which you can use to fade or remove colour from your hair. The methods outlined work with varying effectiveness and cause differing amounts of damage. Always start with the least-damaging method, taking into consideration the effectiveness of the method on the type of dye you’ve used. You should assess the condition of your hair and do strand and sensitivity tests before proceeding with the colour removal techniques below.
The best colour removal method depends on the type of dye that you’re trying to get rid of. For standard permanent and semi-permanent dyes (the type mixed with developer) a colour reducer is most effective.
For unnatural colours like blue, pink, purple there are a number of techniques that you can employ to gently fade the colour out including shampooing, bleach soaks and colour removers.
For removing unnatural colour, always start with the least damaging methods and work your way through the options. Getting your colour from vibrant to faded before attempting any of the more damaging colour removal methods will really increase your success rate while reducing the amount of damaging processes that your hair is exposed to.
Keep in mind that when changing from one colour to another, it’s not always necessary to get rid of all of the old colour before moving to the next one. You can turn your faded blue into purple by applying pink over it. To learn more about changing colours, have a look at Colour Theory for Hair Dyeing
When you don’t like your hair colour it’s tempting to reach straight for the bleach. Bleach is probably the most powerful colour removal method but it can be harsh on your hair. In many cases bleaching is overkill.
So when should you use bleach? In my opinion, you should only opt for bleach after you’ve tried several other suitable colour removal methods. You probably know that bleaching your hair is damaging so unnecessary bleaching should be avoided. Bleaching already lightened hair risks severe damage so it should be your last resort.
If you bleach out fresh colour you may encounter an unexpected result. For example, you’ve dyed your hair dark blue like Special Effects Blue Velvet but you decide it’s too dark and you bleach it. The result: bright pink hair. Bleach removes cool tones more quickly than warm, so this can happen with a variety of colours. Green may go neon yellow when bleached. Purple can go pink.
Most surprisingly, many violet hair colours oxidise to green. Let’s say you’ve used Pravana Violet and changed your mind about it. You’ve seen a video where a hairstylist uses a very light permanent blonde over the top to remove it and you think you should give it a try. Well, as with bleach, permanent dyes are oxidising and the result could very well be a strong green that’s really difficult to shift.
Another issue that can occur with very strong colours like Special Effects Atomic Pink, or with luminous dyes like Fluorescent Glow is the colour becoming more stubborn. Bleaching fresh colours like this can potentially drive the colour deeper into your hair, making it more difficult to get rid of.
The best option in this case is to wash out as much colour as possible; the more faded it looks, the better. Try some less damaging methods to remove the colour and if all else fails and you can’t get to a colour that you can dye over, then use bleach.
If you do opt for bleach, the damage caused is dependant on a few factors:
Use: On stubborn colour when other methods have failed. Can remove permanent colour (but a colour reducer is a better option).
Damage Risk: Moderate – High (depending on your hair’s condition, developer used and processing time). Damage is always permanent and must be grown out.
Effectiveness: Very effective at lightening natural hair and on semi-permanent dyes. Less effective on demi and permanent colour.
Additional Info: Lower volume peroxide in your bleach mix will make the lightening process slower and give you more control. Leaving strong bleach mixtures on your hair for long periods of time will cause the most damage.
This is a home remedy for fading colour that uses household ingredients. Vitamin C is an acid and as such, can cause irritation to the skin. I don’t recommend this method but as it’s a popular technique online I decided to cover it in this article. It works best on semi-permanent colours and can remove 1-2 levels of tone. It will not affect your natural hair colour but can cause dryness to your hair and irritate or even burn the skin.
This method uses 1 × 1000mg effervescent Vitamin C tablet or 1g vitamin C powder and shampoo. The vitamin C tablet is crushed into a powder, collected in a bowl and mixed with a large squirt of cheap shampoo, to be applied immediately. It’s a messy process so having a towel and a shower cap on hand is usually necessary to keep it away from your eyes.
The mixture is usually left on for around 5 minutes (maximum of 10 minutes) before rinsing out and following with conditioner.
Vitamin C Treatment Summary
Use: On direct dyes (Manic Panic, Directions, Special Effects etc.) to remove tone.
Damage Risk: Mild. This process will have a drying effect your hair but this can be remedied with a deep conditioner.
Effectiveness: Depends on the colour but usually lightens direct dyes 1-2 shades.
Additional Info: I don’t recommend this method but it’s a popular home fading method. Vitamin C is acidic and therefore can damage hair/skin/eyes in high concentration.
Colour removers fall into two categories – colour strippers and colour reducers. Colour strippers are very similar to bleach but colour reducers are a great way of removing permanent colour from your hair with minimal damage. Colour reducers won’t touch your natural colour and only remove artificial pigment.
Colour strippers usually come in powder form, whereas colour reducers are usually 2 liquids to combine. An easy way to tell whether you have a colour stripper or a colour reducer is that colour reducers stink. They have a sulphurous, rotten egg smell that can take a while to go away. The upside of colour reducers is that they are much less damaging, so it’s worth the stench.
The instructions vary from one manufacturer to the next, but generally you can use a colour reducer 2-3 times to remove a permanent colour. It reverses the colouring process by shrinking the colour molecules in your hair, allowing them to be washed out. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, both for safety and to ensure you get the most from the product. When the instructions say wash your hair for 20 minutes, do it!
For the best results when using a colour remover on direct dyes like Special Effects, Pravana, Manic Panic, Arctic Fox, Pulp Riot etc., prepare your hair by washing it thoroughly with a clarifying or dandruff shampoo (just make sure it isn’t 2-in-1). Your hair should be squeaky clean. Apply the colour remover to dry, unconditioned hair and rub it into your hair to ensure full coverage. Cover your hair with a shower cap or plastic wrap and stay in a warm place while it processes for time stated on the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t apply heat, but stay away from cold drafts which can reduce the effectiveness of the colour reducer.
You’ll be able to see the difference once you start rinsing out the colour remover, but you’re not done yet. Colour reduction can be reversed, so at this point you have to wash your hair very, very thoroughly to get the loose colour molecules out of your hair. It’s best to spend around 30 minutes repeatedly washing your hair. Expect to shampoo 5-7 times with very thorough rinsing. Follow with a deep conditioner.
Have a look at Colour Remover on Direct Dyes to see the results of using colour remover on stubborn colours like Special Effects Atomic Pink as well as several Manic Panic and Pravana colours.
Colour reducers are designed for permanent colour and should be your first call if your permanent colour went too dark or you want to make a dramatic change like going from dyed brown to blonde. They’re also great on semi-permanent “box” or “drug store” dyes. Older colour is more difficult to shift, so the sooner you use a colour remover after the unwanted permanent dye the better. You may need to repeat the process for very dark colours or if there are a few layers of colour.
You’ll find that if you haven’t washed your hair sufficiently, old colour molecules still left in your hair will become activated again over the days following the colour removal procedure. You can check whether any darkening will occur by coating a strand of hair in peroxide. Leave it for a few minutes and then rinse. If you don’t see old colour return you’re done. If you do see the colour reappear, get back in the shower and shampoo some more.
Colour Remover Summary
Use: To remove permanent colour (any permanent colour that was mixed with peroxide).
Damage Risk: Mild-Moderate
Effectiveness: Very effective on permanent and demi permanent colours. Unpredictable on unnatural colours although most dyes will change colour or fade.
Additional Info: Always do a strand test before you begin. Washing out the colour molecules is the key to achieving a good result. Don’t skimp on the shampooing stage! To check if the colour has been removed, apply 10 volume developer to a strand of hair. If it darkens you’ll need to repeat the process.
Colour reducers on direct colours have varying effectiveness. Warm colours like red and orange seem to come out more easily. Greens have a tendency to go yellow. Already faded hair gets the best results.
Colour reducers have a very distinctive rotten egg smell. The smell is worst when the product is on your hair, but it can hang around for about a week afterwards. You’ll usually notice it most when your hair is wet.
Sounds simple, but anti-dandruff shampoo works like a charm removing pastels and unwanted tones. If your blonde hair has gone too ashy or you still have a slight tint from your last colour hanging around, a few washes with an anti-dandruff shampoo will lighten it up significantly.
Likewise, clarifying shampoo can help speed up fading. Swimmer’s shampoo, clarifying shampoo and pre-colour shampoos all do the job. Allow the shampoo to sit on your hair for a few minutes each shampoo and rinse out with warm water.
These shampoos can leave your hair feeling a little bit too clean, so follow it with a moisturising conditioner or coconut oil treatment.
Anti-Dandruff / Clarifying Shampoo Summary
Use: Removes unwanted tones, pastel tints, green tones on blonde hair.
Damage Risk: None (although always follow with conditioner).
Effectiveness: Noticeable fading on pastel colours. Speeds up fading on darker, direct shades. Not noticeably effective on permanent colour.
Additional Info: Harsher shampoos will leave your hair a bit dry if you don’t follow with conditioner.
A bleach bath is a mixture of bleach and shampoo. Simply mix up some bleach powder and 20 volume peroxide in a 1:1 ratio and add the same amount again in shampoo. Apply to your hair immediately and take all the precautions you would when dealing with bleach to protect your skin, eyes, clothing and surroundings. Check your hair every 5 minutes, up to around 30 minutes before washing out the mixture. Always follow with conditioner.
A bleach bath will lighten up your unwanted colour but may also affect your natural hair, so it’s not advisable if you have regrowth, highlights or balayage.
Bleach Bath Summary
Use: To remove staining from your hair and to lift 1-2 levels before re-colouring.
Damage Risk: Moderate. This is still bleaching your hair, but the mixture is not as strong as regular bleach.
Effectiveness: Removes tone and lightens direct dyes by around 3 shades. Removes tone on permanent colour but results are less dramatic.
Additional Info: The same rules apply as with bleaching and you should ensure that your hair will not end up over-processed by doing a strand test first. Expect unnatural colours to change and lighten but not lift out completely unless already very washed out.
The old rule “colour does not lift colour” still applies but a high-lift blonde dye can be a handy addition to your dye stash for minor corrections. In some circumstances you can use a blonde dye to remove leftover tint from your hair, tone it or to even out your colour.
I recommend only doing this when your previous colour has almost washed out leaving a slightly tinted light blondish colour. This is not a suitable method to lighten dark hair.
If you’re considering this method, check out 5 Colour Removal Techniques put to the Test which includes a before and after shot of a strand lightened using a high-lift blonde.
High-lift Blonde Dye Summary
Use: To even out tone and remove slight staining from hair.
Damage Risk: Moderate (depends on the processing and developer as well as the dye used). Dyes high in ammonia have great lightening properties, but are particularly damaging on bleached hair.
Effectiveness: Removes slight staining and unwanted tone on almost-blonde hair. Not recommended for darker hair.
Additional Info: Only use on hair that’s already light blonde to remove unwanted tones and even the colour. Always do strand and sensitivity tests first. Like bleaching, this method can turn purple dyes green, so I would not recommend it for correcting purple or grey toners.
If you need to fade your colour swimming in a chlorinated pool will fade semi-permanent colour, and with repeated exposure can fade permanent colour slightly. Swimming in the sea can also lighten your colour. The effects are subtle but if you’re a regular swimmer you will notice a difference.
Use: Fades semi-permanent colour
Damage Risk: Mild
Effectiveness: Can have a noticeable fading effect on direct dyes but is not particularly effective on demi-permanent and permanent colour.
Additional Info: Chlorine can damage your hair with prolonged exposure so always shampoo your hair after swimming. Blonde hair can turn greenish in pool water. This can be corrected with a chelating or “swimmer’s” shampoo, available online or from beauty supply shops.
While I don’t want to encourage anyone to expose themselves to sun-damage, most unnatural colours are not particularly photostable. If you can safely give your hair a little bit of sun exposure over a few days you will notice a difference in colour. Always take precautions to avoid sunburn to your skin (don’t forget your scalp).
Sun Exposure Summary
Use: Fades all types of hair colour eventually, but works best on vegetable-based colours
Damage Risk: Mild
Effectiveness: Works well on many unnatural coloured direct dyes, but has less effect on permanent colour.
Additional Info: Cooler shades like blue and purple are especially vulnerable to sunlight. Be sensible and always take precautions to protect your skin when exposed to the sun.
No, I don’t mean the drug – I’m talking about the stuff your granny uses to relieve her aches and pains. Bath salts are a mixture of soluble minerals that are added to bath water and usually include Epsom salts and sodium bicarbonate. To use, just run a bath, sprinkle in some bath salts and soak your hair for as long as possible. Colour is drawn out of your hair, and if there’s a lot of pigment in your hair, you’ll see a pool of colour where you’ve been soaking!
Bath Salts Summary
Use: Fades semi-permanent colours
Damage Risk: Negligible
Effectiveness: Good for drawing out excess colour. Does not affect permanent colour.
Additional Info: Blue and purple shades seem most susceptible to this method.
To remove tone and light staining you can mix warm water with your usual bleach powder (don’t use peroxide) or substitute water for shampoo and apply it to the affected area. Wear gloves and take the same precautions you would when working with bleach (protective clothing, strand tests, sensitivity tests). Rinse, shampoo and condition your hair after 10-15 minutes.
You might also be interested in Katie’s Direct Dye Fading Technique which has useful info as well as before and after photos.
Bleach Powder & Water / Bleach Powder & Shampoo Summary
Use: To remove tone
Damage Risk: Mild-Moderate
Effectiveness: Good on unnatural colours. Not effective for lightening hair.
Additional Info: This method can lighten a direct dye 1-2 shades and is excellent for removing pastel colours, staining and unwanted tone. For best results use warm water or a clarifying shampoo.
Do you have a technique for fading your colour? Share it in the comments section below!